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Love and Friendship Across the Lifespan  

Saeideh Heshmati, Ezra Isabel Cabreros, Olivia Ellis, and M. Betsy Blackard

Humans are innately social, and this disposition motivates us to build relationships. In particular, close relationships such as romantic love relationships and friendships have a unique bidirectional influence on development. These close relationships influence individuals’ overall well-being in addition to giving purpose and meaning to people’s lives. They also have implications for the development of identity, promoting better mental health, and increasing life satisfaction. Love and friendships are unique in their voluntary and bidirectional nature, and it is this very nature that puts them into the spotlight of interest and makes them prone to change across the lifespan. In the earliest stages of life, the most significant relationships are those with caregivers, although such relationships lay the groundwork for future non-familial relationships. As children begin going to school and interacting with people outside of the home, social connections expand to include friendships during childhood and adolescence. While peer relations teach children and adolescents many of the social skills that are required to maintain close relationships later in life, love relationships, which tend to emerge in adolescence, also contribute to their development and cognitions about social bonds. Love relationships gain a great deal of importance in young adulthood, as young adults strive for intimacy and strong social support. As individuals grow older, they tend to be more selective about the people they spend time with; consequently, middle-aged and older adults’ social circles reduce to the most meaningful connections. These patterns in close relationships provide a deeper understanding of how social connections influence development and, conversely, how development influences social connections.


Social Development Across the Lifespan  

Kendall Cotton Bronk, Elyse Postlewaite, Betsy Blackard, Jordan Boeder, and Hannah Lucas

Social development refers to the process through which individuals learn to get along with others. It encompasses the formation of friendships and romantic relationships as well as experiences of bullying and loneliness. Across the life span, cognitive development enables increasingly complex social interactions, and the most important contexts for social development expand. Early in life, family is the primary context for social development, but in adulthood the social world grows to include peers, colleagues, and others. Social development is critical for well-being. Research finds that the lasting social bonds that individuals form are perhaps the most important ingredient in a life well lived.


Social Relationships Across Adulthood and Old Age  

Cornelia Wrzus and Jenny Wagner

Over the entire life span, social relationships are essential ingredients of human life. Social relationships describe regular interactions with other people over a certain period and generally include a mental representation of the relationship and the relationship partner. Social relationships cover diverse types, such as those with family members, romantic partners, friends, colleagues, as well as with other unrelated people. In general, most of these relationships change in number, contact frequency, and relationship quality during adulthood and old age. For example, both the number of and contact with friends and other unrelated people generally decrease with advancing age, whereas the number of and contact with family members remain rather stable. Relatively little is known about longitudinal changes in the quality of relationships, apart from romantic relationships, because few longitudinal studies have tracked specific relationships. Some explanatory factors, which are discussed in the literature, are (a) motivational changes, (b) reduced time due to work and family demands during adulthood, and (c) resource constraints in older age. Future work on social relationships would benefit from increasingly applying dyadic and network approaches to include the perspective of relationship partners as well as from examining online and offline contact in social relationships, which has already proved important among younger adults.